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Khalil Gibran's feminism, in his book The Prophet, is startling in its modernity, even though written almost a century ago, and could teach us a few things.
Khalil Gibran’s feminism, in his book The Prophet, is startling in its modernity, even though written almost a century ago, and could teach us a few things.
I firmly believe that Kahlil Gibran, had he wanted to, would have been able to start a new religion perching himself at the top as a prophet. Fortunately, he chose not to. Instead, he left us with a book called The Prophet, which we mere mortals can refer to from time to time on such important matters such as: Love, Marriage, Children, Friendship, Freedom, Work and quite a bunch of other things.
Each line in this book will leave you speechless. The depth of the meaning conveyed in a few lines of flowing prose that reads like poetry. Consider the 2 lines as under:
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
These lines come in response to the question to the Prophet on matters concerning marriage.
The first line is like a shocker that tells us not to make a bond of love on first glance. How can we not form a bond of love, one might ask. This is a false prophet who wants us not to make bonds with the people we love, presposterous!
Not so fast, please not so fast.
Let’s analyze these mere words and try to get the real meaning out of what Gibran wants to tell us. What is a bond?
Bond could either be a noun or a verb. Let’s explore bond as a noun. The meaning of the word as the dictionary suggests is:
‘a thing used to tie something or to fasten things together’
So basically when you are creating a bond, you are holding things together with a kind of force or pressure which is not natural but which is external. No matter how strong or hard this force is, it is not going to last forever and during the period that it last, it will create pressure on the parts joined.
However, one could argue that a ‘bond of love’ is bound by love and hence is not external or unnatural. Doesn’t matter what kind of adhesive you are using, even if it is something as wondrous as love or pure as peace, still it will deteriorate if you force it to stick. As a verb bond is defined as follows:
‘join or be joined securely to something else, typically by means of an adhesive substance, heat, or pressure.’
Since an adhesive substance, heat or pressure sounds way too negative to even be dealt with let’s consider this definition by altering it with the word of love shoved in.
‘join or be joined securely to something else, typically by means of love.’
Though it sounds very romantic to read, it is still oppressive. When you join two things together, you are basically forcing them to be together and as we all know pretty well, when we force something on anyone, even though that is exactly what they might want or need, the fact that it is being forced onto them makes it seem less agreeable and necessary had it been sought from inside.
More than happiness, humans seek freedom. The freedom to choose, freedom to do and freedom to move in any which way they want. A bond, however beautiful and strong, would curtail that freedom and this forms the basis of discontent in any relationship. Once that discontent creeps in, it won’t be long before strains begin to appear and the bonds start to weaken. The mere fact that an external bond exists, implies that it is there to be broken. So let go off these bonds. Bonds of love, bonds of family, bonds of the heart, bonds of friendship – let there be no bonds.
Let there be only moving seas between the shores of your souls. Seas that flow freely but are guided by the shores, seas that are vibrant with live, seas that guide you towards each other. When one is given this freedom, then one feels more alive and does not feel tedious or lethargic of the bond. There is no need for a bond. Even without a bond binding the shores of your souls, your souls will seek out each other. Your souls will stay with each other. That my friends is the mark of true love – to be want to be with each other with nothing holding each other. Not children, not family, not customs or traditions. It is the joy of being with each other. It is the love that flows like a sea between the two of you.
Now that we have made sense of those 2 lines in like 2 pages, let’s move on to the next few lines.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup,
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
I can’t believe that Gibran penned these views more than a century ago. These lines look like they are written for today’s generation. A generation that sometimes seem to think that it is ok to completely depend on their partner either for your financial or emotional gratification. Gibran warns us against that. He exhorts couples to not only help filling the others’ cup but also making sure that you are partaking of both the cups and not emptying the other while preserving your own. Basically saying ‘Don’t be selfish!’ in a much more lyrical and effective manner.
The second line basically says the same thing but evokes comfort by referring to bread. So not only do you help to fill the other person’s cup but you also share with them what you already have. So telling the couples that you need to be both giver and taker. Caution against being a giver or taker all the time. The need for balance is examined here. Doesn’t matter how much you are capable of giving and who gives how much, its more a matter of giving and taking. The savior of any relationship, not just marriage.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Love sometimes makes you think and do things that you will regret in the long run. People in love feel like they should be spending all of their time together. One often hears of lover’s tiffs wherein one is mad at the other because they chose to do something that did not involve the presence of the loved one. Especially in the beginning of any romantic relationship, the lovers feel compelled to be in each others’ presence always. They will feel guilty it sometimes they feel like they want to be by themselves or with someone else. The whole humanity has been conditioned to believe that unless you want to be with someone 24×7, you don’t truly love them.
Gibran seeks to quash that view with these lines here and he even gives an example to put his point across. He shows how 2 people can give each other space and still think and behave like one. There is no need for you to be always in the company of other to make the same music. Yes, you need to be close, but not together. Being close to one another is not dependent on physical proximity. It should not be!
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of a temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
Gibran ends this piece of advice with a flourish. His lines are evocative and add life and meaning to the lines in the minds of the reader. Stand together, yet not too near together! If only we did that in our relationships, I am sure we would have no issues with our relationships anymore!
The last line I think is a master stroke of finesse and imagery. Oak and Cypress. The strongest, tallest and loveliest trees that grow fast and swift. But that kind of growth is only possible if they are independent of each other. If either one was too near, then one of them will have to give up their existence because nothing can grow in another’s shadow.
These lines might not seem like they carry such tremendous value in this day and age but one has to understand that Gibran wrote these lines more than a century ago. A time where women’s rights were unheard of.
All through his narrative he maintains the idea that both sides of the relationship coin are equally important. The advice is addressed to both men and women. So much so, that he does not even differentiate between the two. That I believe is the hallmark of true feminism, that we can’t distinguish which gender a particular thing is aimed at. Gibran had achieved it 100 years ago. Something that is rare to see even now.
All in all, the concept of marriage according to Kahlil Gibran seems to be that marriage should be a means for the individual growth of its participants. He warms against one person giving or expecting too much. Human beings should feel free to love, free to move about in their relationships. If they feel like they are trapped or bound, then that relationship is bound to fail. Next, he advises on how to go about doing that – by always standing next to the other person, with a space in between, a space that allows for the other person to move and grow. That my friends, is how relationships are meant to be and that is how they will last long.
Published here earlier.
Image source: pixabay
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